Dobry den! That’s hello in Czech. Greetings go a long way for people here. But, maybe don’t smile when you greet them, and definitely don’t ask someone how they are. Rude. Why does she care how I am? She doesn’t even know me. Suspicious American. I haven’t been offending tons of people or anything, this is just what I’ve learned from program advisors and an elementary Czech professor. Well, I have offended a few people on accident— once when I tried to translate “french roast” into Czech at the grocery store (the woman became extremely stand-offish and told me to go to the meat section) and once when I tried to tip a bartender for waiving the charge of my order. Tipping is customary here, I checked! He pushed the money back and said, “You have now offended me.” It’s probably because I smiled at him when I put the coins down. Czechs are a very serious bunch. A few of my roommates and I ended up befriending him hours later, however, so redemption is possible. As for the grocery store mix-up, perhaps she thought I wanted a pot roast. Still unsure why she was irked by this.
Slavic language in general is just a whole new ball game. It's not like I can pick up any words based on cognates, as nothing is derived from Latin. I thought the word for “please” was the word for “thank you” for an entire day, and when I learned the real “thank you,” I mispronounced it for a few hours. I’m blaming this on the jet lag, but the truth is, these words were very hard to remember on the first day. My brain was fried, and I kept cracking under the pressure of simple interactions. Once the nerves about human contact subsided, I got a little more confident in my responses— except, my new problem was, I kept saying Gracias. I confidently thanked waiters in Spanish, in the Czech Republic— followed by me burying my forehead in my hands, wondering where my logic had wandered off to in that moment. Today, after being served a meal, I said danke schön, as if German has ever been a language that I’ve studied. Who even am I?
Despite the slight embarrassment and confusion, (which I assume is only natural at first), experiencing this new culture has been exactly the exhilarating knowledge avalanche that I’ve been awaiting. Prague is fantastically gorgeous, and there is so much history engrained into the city that you can only truly immerse yourself in if you’re weaving your way through it all. Everything is colorful and absolutely ancient. Almost all of the city’s oldest architecture, in every district including Jewish Prague, was preserved during WWII, as it was meant to be a museum-like city of the “lost race” according to the Final Solution. Every turn of each cobblestone corner is bursting with statues, whether they’re of Kafka, or Charles IV, or patron saints of Prague, or two men peeing towards each other surrounded by an outline of the Czech Republic. There is a map on the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square, which excludes America, as it had yet to be charted or even discovered when the clock was established. My roommates and I have plans to go to the Estates theater to listen to Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which is where the opera debuted. There’s so much in Prague alone, and there are so many other cities and countries to visit!
The best part of all the traveling to come is the company. I have five amazing roommates, and the six of us are split up between four different bedrooms in the most adorably Czech apartment I’ve ever seen. First of all, there are pictures of former president (and hero, so it seems) Havel, everywhere. There are three in my bedroom, and so many strewn on the walls of the hallway and the other bedrooms that there are literally duplicates. I see his face everywhere I go, and I’m kind of into it. It’s like he’s watching over us and and making sure our stay in his country is hospitable. Besides the 12 Havels, my living breathing roommates and I are a mixture of all different, yet wildly fun personalities, and we have been absolutely living. Most of what happens in our group make for stories best told verbally, but it’s also only day 3, so more written ones to come :)